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BEST NEW RESTAURANTS 2015: Vancouver EDITION

Kitsilano restaurants shine in year marked by return of fine dining


Read on for capsule reviews, and a tool for sharing the list of featured restaurants you’ve tried

  • 1aRoyal Dinette 905 Dunsmuir St.
  • 1bGrapes & Soda 1541 West 6th Ave.
  • 2Bauhaus 1 West Cordova St.
  • 3Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio 1600 Howe St.
  • 4Mission 2042 West 4th Ave.
  • 5AnnaLena 1809 West 1st Ave.
  • 6Kinome Japanese Kitchen 2511 West Broadway
  • 7Chang’An 7-1661 Granville St.
  • 8The Greek by Anatoli 1043 Mainland St.
  • 9Au Comptoir 2278 West 4th Ave.
  • 10Torafuku 958 Main St.


Note: Restaurant critic Alexandra Gill hosted a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ session with readers on Friday, Dec. 11. See a recap here.

Fine dining is back in style. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the meteoric rise of Vancouver’s high-end real-estate market. Largely driven by local Asian clientele, consumption of premium wines is up, tasting menus are all the rage, hostesses often speak English as a second language, Chinese restaurants are finally investing in mood lighting and such upscale icons as Le Crocodile and Cioppino’s are busier than ever.

If 2014 was the year of simplicity, 2015 brought a swing back to complexity. From handmade pasta (rolling out everywhere), in-house butchery, root-to-stem cooking, angry tiger chili sauces and “soil” garnishes made from dehydrated seaweed, restaurant dishes are being hyper-manipulated and crafted with extreme intensity – at all levels, not just fine dining.

A quite different, back-to-basics movement began filling our cups. If you weren’t splashing out on premier cru Bordeaux, you were likely sipping an unfiltered, wild-yeast fermented natural wine produced from grapes grown in a biodynamic vineyard gone wild at the top of Mount Etna. Or perhaps you opted for a cocktail pairing – or even better yet, a beer cocktail pairing – both of which we are seeing with increasing frequency partly because of the explosion of B.C. micro-distilleries and craft breweries.

Oddly enough, it was a very good year for diners in Kitsilano. After a decade of drought, the West Side neighbourhood was flooded with great new restaurants (five on this list). And now East Van’s Fraser-Kingsway corridor is shaping up to be the hot ‘hood of 2016. Again, you can thank those crazy real-estate prices.

Globe and Mail's Top 10 Restaurants 2015

Been there, dined that

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10. Torafuku

958 Main St., 778-903-2006, torafuku.ca

Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail

The first bricks-and-mortar project from the partners behind the Le Tigre food truck smacks the palate with turbocharged taste bombs that simmer (meltingly tender “Brown Cow” Shaoxing wine-braised oxtail ladled over sticky mochi fingers), crackle (blowtorched “Kick Ass” pork belly rice cakes garnished with crumbled nori and “Angry Tiger” chili sauce) and explode (“Welcome to the Gun Show” mussels dunked in spicy tomato-coconut cream riddled with chipotle-oil smokiness). The shrugged-off, hipster service can be highly annoying, especially when the kitchen cranks out multiple dishes simultaneously or you are asked to share a close-quartered booth with strangers. And the Main Street room’s cool, raw industrial design is about as uncomfortable as the rustic ceramic dinnerware is attractive. But those jacked-up, addictively seasoned small plates will still leave you panting.

Read the full review from October: Vancouver’s Torafuku is a confusion of boldly flavoured dishes

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9. Au Comptoir

2278 West 4th Ave., 604-569-2278, aucomptoir.ca

Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail

The classics are classics for good reason. Yet even the most enduring archetypes can sometimes be improved. This French café-bistro, which opened in Kitsilano late last year, feels authentically Parisian, but boasts one major difference: There is nothing snooty about it. This is a relaxed neighbourhood haunt where one can linger all day – over café au lait and pain au chocolat in the morning and red wine and entrecôte frites at night. Small round tables are squeezed side by side against a long leather bench. Behind the handcrafted tin bar, a vibrant living-wall garden frames the requisite bottles of pastis and cassis. A traditional menu strikes all the right chords: salade vercingétorix with soft-poached egg oozing into baby gem lettuce cups; tarte aux poireaux confits dusted with crumbled buttermilk ricotta; and steak tartare freshly chopped and vibrantly spiced. Unlike Paris, however, the gracious servers laugh loosely, smile broadly and never sneer.

Read the full review from February: It’s not quite Paris at Au Comptoir – and that’s a good thing

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8. The Greek by Anatoli

1043 Mainland St., 604-979-0700, thegreekbyanatoli.com

Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail

Begin the night with a shot of chilled ouzo, unwind to the throb of thumping club tunes and chuckle at the No. 5 Orange Showroom Pub (a strip club) coasters. No, this is not your usual mom-and-pop taverna. The original Anatoli Souvlaki has been a North Shore institution since 1984. Alex and Iani Makris took over from their parents a few years ago. When opening a second restaurant, the two young, fun-loving brothers chose rowdy Yaletown and stamped the breezy, whitewashed brick space with their own sense of lighthearted hedonism – and, more significantly, elevated cuisine. Fresh herbs, quality stocks and à la minute saucing bring classical French flourish to typically stodgy, greasy country Greek cooking. Skip the hummus (the chef egregiously uses canned chickpeas). But don’t miss the rabbit, braised until buttery and adorned with crisp okra or grilled “popsicle” chops stuffed with light lamb sausage, wrapped in crisp bacon and drizzled with glossy jus.

Read the full review from June: The Greek by Anatoli: Good food, good fun – for grown-ups

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7. Chang’An

7-1661 Granville St., 604-681-1313

Chef Sonia Yuan pulls noodles for the hand-pulled spicy noodle dish.

Chef Sonia Yuan pulls noodles for the hand-pulled spicy noodle dish.

Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail

How can you tell Chang’An is different from most Chinese restaurants? First clue, the chandeliers are dimmed. Fine Chinese dining is back in vogue. But unlike the Cantonese restaurants of old, this showy arriviste caters to affluent newcomers from mainland China. You can feel the distinction in the prices: $88 for Peking duck (nearly twice the norm), house-roasted in a custom 1,800-kilogram stone oven and hand-carved tableside on a rolling cart. You can taste the contrast in the voluptuous condiments – large sugar crystals for dipping the fatty sides of crispy skin and sweet strawberry jam for wrapping the succulent dark meat in tissue-thin dough. And you can see the nouveau riche display of conspicuous consumption in the pile of empty plates left on the table to suggest abundance. Located under the Granville Street Bridge on the False Creek seawall, this Northern Chinese import is the first of its high-end type to open downtown. You can bet it won’t be the last.

Read the full review from February: Chang’An: Fine Chinese dining, but beware the inattentive service

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6. Kinome Japanese Kitchen

2511 West Broadway, 778-379-1925

Ben Nelms for The Globe and Mail

There are many reasons to visit this casual omakase restaurant with serious upscale ambition. The five-course, $50 chef’s tasting menu – built from organic vegetables, fresh wild seafood and grass-fed beef – is excellent value. The dashi egg omelette, a true test of any Japanese kitchen, is soft, delicate and superbly folded with bitter mitsuba herb at its centre. The ceremonious pouring of sake in a cup of your choosing until it overflows into a wooden masu box is a gracious show of generosity. But the biggest draw is the buckwheat soba noodles, which are made daily and hand-cut to square-edged precision in the upstairs loft of this warmly rustic West Broadway restaurant. Chef Ryoma Matarai studied for three years at a soba school in Tokyo, where he also worked at Gonpachi, a well-known soba and yakitori restaurant (supposedly the inspiration for a famous Kill Bill setting). He is one of only two chefs in Vancouver who practise the revered art of soba-making.

Read the full review from July: Handmade noodles a shining star in Vancouver’s Kinome Japanese Kitchen

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5. AnnaLena

1809 West 1st Ave. , 778-379-4052, annalena.ca

Darryl Dyck for The Globe and Mail

When you are the first contender kicked off Top Chef Canada, as Michael Robbins was in Season 4, some might wonder if you have something to prove with your first restaurant. The spare elegance of this modern black-and-white room decorated with the chef’s own Lego creations belies the extravagant layers of flavour in each ambitious dish. East Coast mussels, dry-seared in their shells, are married with fennel three ways: white wine broth, crisply sautéed stalks and frond foam. Tiny octopus suckers are detached from their tentacles, pickled and mimicked on the plate with dots of lobster mayonnaise. Lamb neck is served with olive-brined spinach, which is in turn dusted with dehydrated olive powder. Who is Mr. Robbins trying to impress with all this labour-intensive technique? Not his critics, apparently, but his cooks. “Do you know how hard it is to get good kitchen help?” he says. “If they’re not learning something new every day, they’re gone.” Admirable, but there are also lessons to be taught in restraint and the importance of letting some fresh ingredients breathe.

Read the full review from June: AnnaLena Restaurant: Casual dining with thoughtful but fussy dishes

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4. Mission

2042 West 4th Ave., 604-739-2042, missionkits.ca

Ben Nelms for The Globe and Mail

Curtis Luk is on mission to create a true farm-to-table/nose-to-tail/root-to-stem restaurant. To do so properly entails certain limitations. He cannot serve beef because it is impossible to butcher, process and serve an entire cow while still fresh with only 60 seats. So his meat courses revolve around smaller animals – pigs, ducks, sometimes goat. Goat can be a tough sell, especially when the four- and six-course tasting menus don’t allow for any substitutions. If one person at the table orders the tasting menu, everyone must follow suit. To mix up an order with à la carte dishes would apparently derail Mr. Luk’s meticulously stationed kitchen, which already runs fairly slowly. (The superbly chosen natural wine pairings also require time to explain.) The chef’s strict devotion to his cause evokes strong emotions. Some customers hate the lack of choice. Others love how he creates haute porridge from cauliflower and digs darkly delicious “earthy condiments” out of trimmings that would normally go to the compost pile. Well, no one ever said it would be easy to save the planet. And some of us really do enjoy goat.

Read the full review from August: Mission: One of the best new restaurants in Vancouver

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3. Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio

1600 Howe St., 604-681-1164, ancoradining.com

Ben Nelms for The Globe and Mail

This splendid seafood restaurant feels somewhat familiar, yet tastes entirely new. Housed in the False Creek waterfront space long inhabited by the late C Restaurant, it has been spiffed up with aquamarine accents, crystal chandeliers and punched-out windows on the mezzanine level to take full advantage of the seawall views. Most of the senior staff can be traced to the Blue Water Cafe, including executive chef Ricardo Valverde and raw bar chef Yoshi Tabo. Having inherited the best of Blue Water and C – front-room elegance, culinary finesse, excellent wines, sustainable seafood – the new restaurant has transcended both with its own thoroughly modern Peruvian-Japanese twist. The transcontinental combination isn’t as odd as it sounds. Peru was the first South American country to accept Japanese immigrants, in 1899. Nikkei, the country’s Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine, has recently become one the world’s biggest gastronomic sensations. Ancora does not purport to be traditional. Silky-smooth Dungeness crab causa emulsified with aji amarillo in a pool of spicy huancaina cheese sauce or mixto ceviche cold-cured in a spicy togarashi and tossed with fresh wakame seaweed combine Peru’s bold spicing with the freshness of Vancouver’s long-time Japanese-inflected West Coast seafood cuisine.

Read the full review from December: Ancora Waterfront Dining and Patio: A Vancouver paradise for any palate

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2. Bauhaus

1 West Cordova St., Vancouver, 604-974-1147, bauhaus-restaurant.com

Ben Nelms for The Globe and Mail

Some say $35 is an outrageous price to pay for veal schnitzel. To that argument, we counter: How many Vancouver restaurants still serve veal, let alone veal schnitzel? Bauhaus goes against every politically correct, self-effacing, locavore, Asian-inspired tendency that the city’s culinary cognoscenti hold dear. Good. All vibrant food cultures need a shake-up every once in a while. And nobody can rattle the cages better than the explosive, larger-than-life B-movie director Uwe Boll. His critics laughed. They said he could never open a modern German fine-dining restaurant (his first) that could compete with city’s best. They were mostly wrong. Mr. Boll made the brilliant decision of hiring Stefan Hartmann, former owner of the one-Michelin-starrred Hartmanns Restaurant in Berlin, as executive chef. The chef’s tastings menus offer some of the most roundly satisfying, technically masterfully classic continental cooking in the city – succulent slow-poached sturgeon in brightly seasoned wine broth that could be drunk by the bowl, velvety braised beef robed like chocolate in deeply delicious, glossy jus. Every element on the plate, from vibrant lobster foams to textures of celery and fried cubes of smoky ham hock – are precisely orchestrated for ambrosial harmony. Yet for all that extraordinary cooking, Bauhaus still doesn’t have the proper management, systems or wine service to be a truly excellent restaurant. The discount coupons are worrisome.

Read the full review from September: Bauhaus: Sophisticated German cuisine worthy of a Michelin star

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1. Royal Dinette/Grapes & Soda

905 Dunsmuir St., 604-974-8077, royaldinette.ca
1541 West 6th Ave., 604-336-2456, grapesandsoda.ca

Grapes & Soda is a niche establishment operated by David Gunawan that features transcendent pairings of wine and small plates.

Darryl Dyck/for The Globe and Mail

Grapes & Soda is Vancouver’s first exclusively natural wine bar. It’s a tiny lounge that caters to wine nerds who are encouraged to be more “present” by parking their mobile phones in drawers fitted under the tables. The esoteric, terroir-driven wines, which can sometimes taste a little funky on their own, come first. Delicate small plates – stingingly acidic mushroom ceviche, for instance, which can also taste a little funky in isolation – have been painstakingly orchestrated to bring out the full expression of the wines. The pairings are transcendent.

Royal Dinette is a farm-to-table restaurant in Vancouver’s downtown financial district. Co-owned by the Donnelly Group, it is attached to the upper-level Blackbird Pub, where people go to play shuffleboard, eat cheeseburgers and get drunk on beer and bourbon. At lunch, both the pub and restaurant attract a hurried business crowd that needs to be in and out in 45 minutes. Somewhat miraculously, the restaurant is able to feed them wholesome, nourishing, astonishingly delicious three-course meals composed of vibrant green salads, handmade pastas and lacy cream puffs. By night, the kitchen offers more experimental dishes (uni in almond gazpacho, sweetbreads in beef fat, chestnut garganelli), all prepared in a theatrical open kitchen. Assisted by suave service, a daring bar program and a beboppy diner setting, Royal Dinette is winning over the masses one hand-sold glass of natural orange wine at a time.

Both establishments – one niche, one mainstream – are run by David Gunawan, Vancouver’s locavore darling. That he could open two such diverse rooms in the same year, while also converting his award-winning Farmer’s Apprentice to tasting menus, is a tour de force that makes him the city’s most influential chef of the moment.

Read the Royal Dinette review from November: Royal Dinette: A completely honest farm-to-table restaurant in Vancouver

Read the Grapes & Soda review from July: Grapes & Soda: Dishes are carefully crafted to match the natural wines

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More top restaurants:

Top new Toronto restaurants of 2015

For every bandwagon-jumping enterprise that opened this year, there were another two, at least, where hungry and talented chefs and managers, bakers, bartenders, sommeliers and top-shelf servers poured their hearts into new and ambitious businesses.


Top new Alberta restaurants of 2015


Top 10 new Vancouver restaurants of 2014



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